The Montessori method of education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female Italian doctor, in the early 1900s. She used her training as a scientist and medical doctor to closely observe children, and developed a school meant to appeal to their nature, rather than fight it.

For example: if kids enjoy moving around, why not create a school that allows them to move freely instead of always trying to make them stay seated?  This is the type of question she asked.

She discarded traditional ideas about how a school should be and shaped both the classroom and materials according to what she learned from observing children in their natural behavior. The schools formed from her insights are now recognized as Montessori schools.

Here are 10 key points of Montessori education to give you a better idea of what Montessori is, and whether it may be right for your children.


1. Experiential learning

Children in Montessori schools learn by working with specially designed materials. Rather than memorizing math facts, they begin by counting and adding concrete materials. They use little objects and a set of wooden letters known as the movable alphabet to learn to read and write. Maria Montessori observed that children need to move and learn through experiences, rather than through sitting and listening to a teacher.

2. Mixed-age classrooms

Montessori classrooms include mixed age groups and mixed skill levels, generally divided into three-year groups (e.g., 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds). Peer learning is encouraged as the little ones learn from observing their older friends and the older children solidify their knowledge and gain valuable leadership skills through giving lessons to the younger children.

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3. Uninterrupted work periods

Every genuine Montessori school provides extended, uninterrupted work sessions (typically lasting 2-3 hours, depending on age). Instead of splitting time into 30-minute segments for different subjects like math and language, children experience extended morning and afternoon work periods within a single classroom that covers all subjects. This extended timeframe enables children to immerse themselves in materials, fostering deep engagement and intense concentration.

4. Academics

Montessori schools encompass not only math, language, and science but also two additional academic areas: practical life and sensorial.

Practical life: This category involves activities designed to teach children skills relevant to daily life. For the younger ones, this may involve tasks such as pouring water with care, tying shoelaces, and scrubbing a table. As children grow older, practical life exercises extend to activities like budgeting and launching a small business.

Sensorial: Sensorial education focuses on refining the senses and is particularly emphasized in classrooms for younger children. Montessori believed that children learn through their senses, and there are materials specially crafted to assist them in enhancing their sense of smell, hearing, and more.

5. Role of the teacher

A Montessori teacher is sometimes referred to as a guide, instead of a teacher, and this reflects her non-traditional role.

In a Montessori schools, a teacher watches and shows kids the right academic tools when they need them. You might not see her much in class because she usually helps one child at a time instead of talking to the whole group at the front. Maria Montessori believed teachers should give kids tools for learning, not just fill them with facts.

6. Freedom within limits

The work in a Montessori school is child-directed. A teacher gives a child a lesson on a material he hasn’t used before, but the child can then independently choose to work on it when he pleases.

In a Montessori classroom, children have the freedom to select their seating and activities, guided by the teacher. While certain behaviors, like dancing around or constant drawing, may be restricted to maintain focus, children can independently decide whether to engage in math or language activities and choose between sitting at a table or on the floor.

7. Educating the whole child

Montessori education aims to nurture every aspect of a child’s development, covering physical, spiritual, social, mental, and emotional aspects. For instance, in a Montessori setting, you may observe a 3-year-old mastering balance by walking carefully with a glass of water or a child engaging in activities like meditation or yoga, while another focuses on mathematical skills like subtraction. In Montessori, each of these elements is regarded with equal importance.

8. Individualized curriculum

In a Montessori class with 25 students, every child is at a different academic level, which the teacher observes and monitors. Instead of providing lessons to the whole group, Montessori teachers offer individual lessons tailored to each student’s specific level and requirements.

This happens because the children mainly work on their own, dedicating a significant part of the day to practicing and refining tasks they’ve already been taught.

9. Prepared environment

Montessori classrooms are called a “prepared environment,” indicating they are set up with all the essentials for children to explore and learn on their own. These spaces are equipped with low shelves and attractive materials to inspire children’s curiosity and interest in learning and working.

Montessori teachers observe the children and decide what work to place on the shelves to meet the children’s interests and needs at the time.

Montessori classrooms, especially those for young children, embrace minimalism compared to traditional classrooms. They feature muted colors and abundant natural light to enhance concentration. Every item in the classroom has a designated place on a shelf, promoting order, and the work is meticulously organized to assist children in developing a sense of order.

10. Peace education

Maria Montessori lived in an era marked by world wars and global turmoil. It’s possible that influenced her strong focus on peace education.

She held the conviction that the world’s future hinged on instilling in children the significance of peace, a principle still evident in Montessori schools today. These schools place a significant emphasis on fostering a sense of community, both within the classroom and as part of the broader global community. Children not only gain knowledge about the world but also acquire tools for self-calming and engaging in peaceful conflict resolution.

Open Visits

If you’d like to see what this looks like in action, some Montessori schools welcome visitors where you can observe a classroom in person.

If you’d like to witness the principles of Montessori education in action, some schools, such as Shir-Hashirim Montessori, welcome visitors. Here, you can observe a classroom in person to experience firsthand the unique approach and emphasis on peace, community, and individualized learning.

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